Ballpark Experience: Tropicana Field, Home of the Tampa Bay Rays

If you’ve been a reader of my baseball blogs for any period of time, you know full well that I’m very much a New York Mets fan. That being said, you also know I currently reside in Tampa, FL where I’m very much thankful for not living in New York anymore.

One of the things that makes baseball great and unique is the stadiums. No two are alike and each have their own quirks, features and personality that make them truly unique. I’ve been to about half the ballparks in the league thus far and it’s always one of my favorite things to plan a trip around seeing a stadium for the first time.

That being said, this wasn’t my first trip to Tropicana Field (according to my MLB At The Ballpark app, it was my 7th), but I’ve never taken the time to detail it until now.

Some quick history on the stadium: construction began in 1986 in an attempt by the city if St. Petersburg to lure an MLB team. St. Pete had gotten the sports itch after Tampa had gotten the NFL’s Buccaneers and NASL’s Rowdies (yes, soccer) in the 1970s and decided they wanted a piece of that pro sports scratch. The hope was that having the building ready-made would lure an MLB team to the area, but even after multiple attempts, the White Sox, Giants and Mariners were all able to work out new stadium deals to stay in their towns.

Having the building already completed made the town a finalist for expansion in 1993, but it eventually lost out to Miami and Denver. At one point, talks with the Giants were serious enough that local investors had announced they were buying the team and moving them to St. Pete, but the sale and move was blocked by the other owners.

So this stadium basically sat around empty for years while temporary tenants like the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) and Tampa Bay Storm (Arena Football) used it while waiting for a more realistic arena to be built for them. Other events like concerts were held there, but it wasn’t until the town was award an expansion team for 1998 that it was going to be regularly.

Think about that. With as fast as technology goes, a stadium where construction began in 1986 was only going to be put to use for its original purpose of housing a Major League team in 1998. The entire stadium-genre had completely changed in that time. Whereas those Astroturf, multi-purpose, cookie-cutter stadiums had become standard in the 1970s and 80s, by the time the Rays (then the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) would play their first game, the ballpark game had completely shifted to the gorgeous, throwback-but-with-modern-amenities buildings that we all know and love today that started with the construction of Oriole Park At Camden Yards in 1992. If you’ve never been to Baltimore, I highly recommend it because it’s obvious just how much influence that one stadium had on the rest of baseball during the stadium boom that took place immediately after its opening.

So by the time the Tampa Bay area got its team, their stadium was already well out of date and didn’t make for very many positive reviews. In the years that have followed, there’s been significant upgrades to the place, but it remains the only permanently-closed domed ballpark in MLB. A lot of people will call it one of, if not the worst stadium in all of baseball. I’m here today to tell you that, sure, it’s no AT&T Park in San Francisco, but it totally gets a bad rep.

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I took a bunch of pics to explain myself so bear with me and take this tour. Yes. This is the stadium from a parking lot across the street. Aesthetically, it’s unpleasing, to say the least. When you’re driving on I-275 from Tampa to St. Pete and see it for the first time, it appears to be a misshapen egg that someone just left on the side of the road.

It’s also not in Tampa. That’s a big thing because it’s about a 20-25 minute ride from Tampa. It’s out-of-the-way. Traffic can be a bitch. There’s not exactly a lot happening in the immediate surroundings of the building. You have to be going there with the sole intention of going to the baseball game that day and then leaving to go about whatever’s next on your agenda. Oh well.

There is plenty of parking around the stadium. The team-operated lots will cost you $20 which is about average, I guess, but there are plenty of smaller, bootleg lots where you can park in driveways, or people’s yards and lawns for $10-$15. Sometimes even as low as the $5 lot I found one time that I’ve never been able to locate since.

Because it’s the Rays, you’ll never have to overpay for tickets or have any kind of problem getting them. If you’re like me, you have certain views you prefer and I picked up my ticket for a Saturday game, three rows over the wall in right-center field for $30.

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I really enjoy that view for whatever reason. Fell in love with it during the 2013 season when my buddy Gomez and I were able to get the same seats in Sec. 103 at Citi Field like every week on StubHub and have liked it ever since. If you’re curious, this is Sec. 142 at Tropicana Field.

I picked this game for a couple of reasons. First, it was a promotional day: Superhero Day with a giveaway of an Iron Man bobblehead in Rays colors.

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Unlike other venues, I didn’t have to be in line for weeks before to ensure I got my bobblehead so that was a welcome change. In addition to that, the Rays recently traded for Lucas Duda who was a Met and I wanted to come cheer for one of my guys in his new surroundings while also figuring I’d be able to pick up a light-blue Duda Rays shirsey since he’s been on the team for over a week already. Unfortunately, that’s apparently not enough time for a team like the Rays as they said they don’t have them yet, but hopefully will “soon”. Not gonna lie: kinda bush league. This was Duda’s 9th game already with the Rays. No excuse.

Walking around the stadium, you’ll notice the concourse are pretty wide and it feels like you come upon a bathroom every few feet. There’s really something to be said for going to a game when the building isn’t packed. No lines for food, no lines for bathrooms, easy to get in and out of the parking lots. Hell, a lot of times you’ll even have a buffer seat between you and whatever group is also in your row. Things like that are simple and you don’t really plan for or expect them, but it’s just as much of a score. Like when you get an empty seat next to you on a flight.

As I walked around, I came upon the main entrance to the park where, being that this was Superhero Day, the team had superhero cosplayers dressed and ready to greet fans and take pictures!

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It’s really awesome to meet Iron Man, especially when it’s HIS bobblehead day. Nice touch, Rays. As for Captain Miss America, to paraphrase Chandler Bing, could you BE any less interested? Whatevs. Super cool. I love taking these kinds of pics anywhere. Sporting events, theme parks, family members’ funerals. They’re always fun.

If you don’t know much about the Rays, they have multiple mascots! Raymond who’s like…I dunno. I’d call him like a blue version of Gossamer from the Looney Tunes cartoons. Like a cousin or something.

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They also have DJ Kitty. If you don’t know the deal with DJ Kitty, take the time to watch this:

IT’S A GODDAMN CAT ON THE ONES AND TWOS! IT’S FUCKING INCREDIBLE!

Ahem.

Yeah. I am all about DJ Kitty. They just had a DJ Kitty onesie giveaway like two weeks ago. I should have went. But yeah, as much as I love mascots, you know it’s like a mission for me. I HAVE to get a picture with DJ Kitty. There are very few things in the world that are more important than me getting that photo-op. Well, goddamn, pal, sometimes the sun just shines on your ass because as I was just walking around, this happened:

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YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I MET DJ KITTY! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!

Seriously, this is well before first pitch and is already one of the best games I’ve ever been to. I haven’t even eaten yet!

The Rays try damn hard to entice the family crowd whether it’s with mascots, giveaways or even these activities to give kids something to do besides just sit and watch what could end up as boring baseball.

There’s also video games and other stuff, but this is smart. I’m one guy buying one ticket, but get a family there with a few kids who have a good time and can’t wait to come back and it doesn’t matter how much money I spend in merch or food, that family will always be worth more to the team.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for me! We had superheroes and DJ Kitty and Lucas Duda playing baseball and also…

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Now it’s time to eat! I uploaded all my pics as small as possible, but what we have here are some pulled pork nachos. It’s a very healthy portion and they don’t cheap out on the meat at all! I’m a big fan and I get these at almost every Rays game I come to. Also, I’ve got the collectible cup soda which is good because it’s ALL YOU CAN DRINK. Yup. Simply go ask for a refill when needed and they’ll do it for you, no questions asked. I think together I paid $22 for this which isn’t at all bad when you consider that I drank 3 sodas so I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth.

One of the more distinguishable features of the park is the actual Rays tank out in centerfield.

Since I was at the park really early, I was able to walk right up and take a few pics. I wasn’t going to pet them like some people do because…ew. And I don’t want to end up in one of those situations like Monica (second FRIENDS reference of this blog) where I get stung and need someone to pee on me.

One thing at The Trop that I had no idea existed until this season is the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame which is a real and legitimate museum right in the stadium featuring displays and artifacts from some of the legends in the game.

I’m a big fan of Ralph Kiner since I grew up with him announcing the Mets so that was cool. You’ve also got displays for tons of guys, just a few I snapped: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Kevin Kiermaier, one of new HOF inductees: Tim Raines, one of the oddest guys to me with a display: Dante Bichette and, of course, the most recently accused statutory rapist: Pete Rose.

But that’s not all!

I took a particular interest in this display for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League simply because A League of Their Own is the greatest sports movie of all time (if you disagree, you’re wrong) and because it’s amazing to think that this was something that existed during World War II and then went away and was basically forgotten. The story of this league is super interesting to me so I loved seeing this stuff.

And, for what it’s worth, I’ve come around to thinking that maybe Dottie dropped the ball on purpose. I don’t like it, but I’m a lot more open to it now.

So this is a trip around Tropicana Park. There was a baseball game too, but that’s for other blogs to cover. The in-game entertainment is your basic “which cap is the ball under” game, some fun with mascots, a race between beverages, oh! There’s also a thing where you dance on the Jumbotron with Baby Groot!

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He’s in the bottom left corner and they play that Jackson 5  from the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy and you go into your best jig to team up with Baby Groot.

Wrap-Up:

Look, Tropicana Field is not going to visually impress you in any way. Ever. And, as someone who can be a stadium snob (fuck Wrigley Field…for real, I said it. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?), I completely get that there are some people who will just never like The Trop. Obviously.

Me, though? I have a great time every time I come to this stadium! Affordable tickets, reasonably priced concessions, fun atmosphere and a fucking roof and air conditioning to protect me from the sweltering Florida summer. Seriously, the heat index in Tampa on Saturday was like 104. You want your open-air stadium or would you prefer to sit comfortably in a climate-controlled environment? Yeah, me too.

The aesthetics may be poor, but the team does a really great job with what they have. It’s not like they’re just getting a new building anytime soon so they’re forced to use the tools given to them and that includes a stadium that was already outdated before the team even existed.

If you’re a fan just visiting for a single game to check it off your list, you may not be able to appreciate the good things about Tropicana Field, but now that I’ve been here a few times, I very much enjoy coming here to watch a game and spend my day. I’ll probably even be going a bit more this season as the Mets’ season was over in April and I feel OK about cheering for the Rays since they traded for Duda and are in the American League anyway.

You won’t leave a Rays game thinking that this was the most amazing stadium you’ve ever been to, but if you leave and say you didn’t have a good time, you’re a liar. The Rays are made for fun and they do a great job of providing that across the demographics. So go out to The Trop, see DJ Kitty, hope they get those Duda shirts in stock, take a walk around the Ted Williams Museum and pet a stingray. Once you’re done with all that, you can even watch a baseball game. Sounds like a pretty damn good day to me.

Joe DiLeo

ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

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